Property, Rule of Law & Freedom

photo credit: ‘caveman chuck’ coker

While in the midst of a wholesale reevaluation of the right to private property, it is timely to reexamine the history of US property rights. What exactly caused America’s unparallelled level of prosperity and freedom? Certainly our economic success then created unparallelled global influence and military might. But what factors allowed America’s stunning growth in economic power in such a short period of time? This economic success was driven by a firm Rule of Law regime which supported the Constitution’s unique defense of private property.

What is the relationship between property, Rule of Law and prosperity? In a nutshell, history shows that unless private property is protected by a firm, unyielding and unbiased Rule of Law, markets will not flourish. Therefore, wealth will not grow and all the other things associated with a prosperous society will also fall by the wayside. The reasons for this are ultimately based in human nature. People are not automatons who simply go about doing “what we are supposed to do.” Instead, human motivation and productivity are very much tied into the rewards and risks found in any undertaking. Yet, if the government takes away the rewards of ambition, leaving behind only the risks, then productivity will fall precipitously.

It is one of the hallmarks of Marxist-influenced thinking to insist human nature does not exist. This single presumption has caused more chaos than probably any other leftist idea. It’s a direct result of assuming God is a fiction, ie religion as the Opiate of the Masses. But, if there is no God, then mankind cannot be made in His likeness—Imago Dei. Further, if humans evolved from a random series of directionless events, and there is no inherent core in people, then anything goes and nothing is out of bounds for ethics, morality, or any other human undertaking. Or, as Dostoevsky believed—Without God, everything is possible. So, the presumption mankind is just a soulless, material being is the single most destructive element in the progressive worldview, and the root cause of all subsequent economic failure.

I. History & Importance of Rule of Law

The Rule of Law as a concept is tied historically to such thinkers as Aristotle, and legal developments such as the Ten Commandments, a foundational legal code. The American Constitution is a concrete example of Rule of Law theorizing, creating a bedrock set of precepts. As a concept, the Rule of Law is a necessary addendum to the Natural Law theory of jurisprudence. It was Scottish divine and university professor Samuel Rutherford who most eloquently described the concept of the Rule of Law in his Lex Rex, or The Law is King. This work influenced the Founders, as well as philosopher John Locke’s writings on constitutionalism and property rights. Locke’s contribution to a Rule of Law republic can be seen in his chapter Section 202 of Chap. XVIII “Of Tyranny” in Book II of the Two Treatises of Government :

“Where-ever law ends, tyranny begins, if the law be transgressed to another’s harm; and whosoever in authority exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has under his command, to compass that upon the subject, which the law allows not, ceases in that to be a magistrate; and, acting without authority, may be opposed, as any other man, who by force invades the right of another. This is acknowledged in subordinate magistrates. He that hath authority to seize my person in the street, may be opposed as a thief and a robber, if he endeavours to break into my house to execute a writ, notwithstanding that I know he has such a warrant, and such a legal authority, as will impower him to arrest me abroad. And why this should not hold in the highest, as well as in the most inferior magistrate, I would gladly be informed.”

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